I've entered that long period of transition familiar to transient families, now a week out of my various professional roles here in Ann Arbor as teacher, graduate student, and part-time journalist. I've started on the long-tail of preparation that culminates three years in Michigan. What that means exactly is yet to be determined but it feels like a state of taking repository narratives and trying to reconcile as many of them as I can. Lay them down in some orderly fashion for the next step. And the step is coming, although staring down the end of an empty day doesn't always feel like it. I'm still looking for closure in some way for why my latest teaching endeavor seemed to fail or at least felt very haphazard and unfinished. Was it my attempt to apply Eastern Michigan's pedagogy of first-year writing that emphasized scaffolding (asking students to grow into assignments based on learned competencies throughout the semester)? Are students at Washtenaw Community College just not ready for that and better suited for modeled writing, like here is a profile, here is an interview, here is an argument, this is a rhetorical analysis.
The population of my class, which started with 20 students and ended with a whopping eight passes, including four D-'s, was so vulnerable. I sat down one night as I was trying to fall asleep and wrote out all the excuses I remembered from this semester. While it broached absurdity, they also revealed a population on the edge of chaos. Filtering out the authentic excuses of course takes a seasoned eye. But I somehow failed these students, I'm sure of it. So many just didn't come to class, or sauntered in 20, 30, 40 minutes late, or would leave for 30 minutes in the middle of class. You don't want to disrupt your lesson every time someone breaks the bounds of respect or the rules of the class. But I can't help thinking I should have been more preachy in the beginning about what constitutes a college student with consistent habits. I was hired by the department director, who I never saw again. Perhaps I didn't do enough to seek out advice or face time. I knew I would only be there a semester. Maybe that came through in my approach. Yet I agonized over lesson plans. I went back and forth between what I could expect of my students. I had to condense a 14-week semester into 10 weeks. Some things I had to leave out. Some things I had to compress. I'm obviously still working out that experience.
This should be behind me. I should be focusing on my present and my future. I was accepted into a doctoral program in March that will not start for nearly six months. What to do with myself in the meantime? How much of that future do I inject in my present? How much should I be shaping my mind now to the thinking that will be expected of me? How many books on communication theory and post-human theory should I be reading. Should I be starting to formulate the kind of PhD candidate I will be? Should I be thinking of something to publish?
Or lest I forget the other struggling writer here who is sitting on a heap of unfinished work. There are so many literary journals to read and submit to. So many circles of names to learn. And then there is the writing I wanted to do given the time (whose ideas now seem to have evaporated into air of the coming summer)? Can I write with nothing but time ahead of me? And then, can I somehow combine the two types of writing, fiction or creative projects informed by communication research, which was always my ulterior motive?
And then there is Annie. The most important of role and the hardest. To what extent do I dedicate my future research on her behalf? Exploring the narrative of disability. Exploring the way that the autistic mind interprets and expresses, her paradigm of communication that we are struggling so hard now to reframe. We are doing everything possible, and she is working so hard everyday to open her attention to people and social cues and the way "typical" people interact with each other. She is a systems builder, creating meaning by rote and repetition of the objects around her and the environments she moves between. Her mind wants to wrap itself around what she sees, and we want to open it wider.
And here I am without the structure of my own schedule, having to construct the architecture of the summer mind. My summer mind. A way to categorize and label all the narrative strands that criss-cross over my consciousness.
Other categories: moving out of Michigan in six weeks. Long or short, depending on your point of view. Six weeks of intensively treating Annie's autism, six weeks of purging items and papers (3 years of my students' work) for the move to San Diego, six weeks of preparing Annie's transition into ABA therapy and early intervention pre-school, six weeks of days filled with to do lists. Even now as I write this, I am breaking away to make a list of morning activities before I leave to pick up Annie from preschool. As the to do lists grow, the space for creative thought seems to constrict -- the struggle between creative man and task-mastering robot. I bought milk this weekend that will expire after we arrive in San Diego. Time is short. And then, once we are settled and have painted the walls, cleaned the carpet, welcomed our arriving furniture and cars, wake up in our San Diego condo, then what? Two more months of waiting for school. We will literally walk back into our old home in our old neighborhood. Will three years in Michigan just have been a dream?